The decision by new California Gov. Gavin Newsom to “scale back” the planned high speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco has not gotten nearly the attention – or derision – it deserves.
In the revised plan, the train will only go from Bakersfield to Merced. To put this in context, it is as if the planners of a high speed rail from New York to Washington settled on a route from Newark to Camden.
It is as if the planners of Apollo 11 settled on Melbourne, Australia, rather the moon. In either case, the whole point of the enterprise is lost.
Bakersfield and Merced are 164 miles apart. Going the speed limit, a driver can get from one dumpy city to another in 2.5 hours, presuming he had any reason to go from one to the other. The only city en route that anyone has ever heard of is the equally dumpy Fresno.
How dumpy? Here is what the usually charitable local NPR station has to say about these three crown jewels of the Central Valley:
“Cities like Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield all share one common thread, other than being major stops on Highway 99. They all routinely rank at the bottom of various lists published by national publications ranking the nations cities on everything from access to public parks to air quality to drunkenness.”
One thing the Central Valley is rich in other than agriculture is state prisons. There are six in the 100-mile stretch between Fresno and Bakersfield. The state put the prisons in this area for the simple reason that few people would object to their being there.
On my one visit to the perversely named “Pleasant Valley” prison in the not nearly as perverse as it sounds “Coalinga” – Coaling Station A – I made the mistake of leaving town before checking my gas gauge.
Driving west on 198, I figured I would run into a gas station sooner or later. The answer was B, later. I drove nearly 50 miles without a cellphone signal and without seeing any commerce at all.
For the last 20 or so of those miles, I willed the car up the hills and coasted down the far sides. Stopping at the first business I found, a diner, I got the sense I was the first Gringo the patrons had seen who didn’t wear a uniform. Happily, the waitress understood enough English to point me in the right direction, and I was saved.
The media have been busily trying to make Gov. Newsom’s decision sound like it makes sense. Newsom “said he would shift his focus to completing just a 171-mile segment of the line already under construction in the state’s Central Valley,” reports the leftist U.K. Guardian. “The project is key to the economic vitality of the state’s agricultural heartland, he said.”
This is nonsense. The plan only made sense if it could take people from one over-trafficked, densely populated part of the state to another over-trafficked, densely populated part of the state in some reasonably cost-efficient way.
In California, a state where construction projects are routinely suspended to protect snails and turtles, that was never going to happen.
Then too, builders would have had to litigate every eminent domain inch of the way through urban and suburban ethnic enclaves to get anywhere near the heart of L.A. or San Francisco.
The project was a boondoggle from birth, the kind that could only have been conceived in the leftist quarters of La La Land.
If Newsom had the cojones to scrap the whole thing, he would have deserved some credit. He could hardly do so, however, at a moment when the “Green New Deal” was all the rage in progressive circles.
One promise of the GND is/was to “build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.”
As the California experiment has shown, however, the cost of building anything terrestrial through a progressive paradise is prohibitive.
This is the irony at the heart of contemporary liberalism, an irony that will go unremarked in a media establishment that has no more future than does California’s high speed rail.